Friday, December 28, 2007

Racism in the North Country

I was always perplexed by the racism that I saw and heard in my home town in New Hampshire. People trafficked in the most appalling stereotypes about blacks despite the fact that almost no one in Newport could even plausibly say that he or she knew any black people. If one wants to see racism as a function of ignorance and unfamiliarity, most of northern New England would be the place to go. Of course there are other wellsprings for racism as well, but that which springs from ignorance born of unfamiliarity, the most literal kind of ignorance, is among the most truculent. I was reminded of these experiences from those years while reading this story in The New York Times about death threats levied against anyone who dared attend NAACP meetings in Bangor, Maine. Not surprisingly, Maine is apparently the whitest state in the country. And this example shows that the racism of unfamiliarity can carry with it every bit of the malice of any other form of racism. Keep this example in mind also when someone next tries to tell you that America is over its racist past, or that blacks just need to get over it, or any of the other cliches that some people reflexively blurt out in order to avoid scrutinizing a country that has come a long way but that still has a long way yet to travel.


montana urban legend said...

I just dumped someone who, upon hearing a few too many (well, not that many!) slurs, challenged me back - "Well, do you know any Blacks? Would you date one? Have you ever been to (a black person's place, evidently...)?" Umm, why yes, I have. And the irony of the mismatch between our respective experiences/encounters and attitudes wasn't lost on me either.

Sometimes I want Obama to win just to stick a poker into the last dying embers of antipathy that some of these proud East Coast people carry around under the rubric of urban-white/European-ethnic-group versus "other" urban-white/European-group competition and low level strife. No one's going to care any more and no longer can it be used as an excuse to occasionally cover up the truly racist attitudes that you would think have no place in the cities that portray themselves as so enlightened and sophisticated. But I guess sometimes sophisticated is actually the furthest thing from enlightened.

montana urban legend said...

someone who, upon my hearing and commenting on their use of a few too many slurs, - it's so easy to be less than clear when commenting on a blog.

dcat said...

MUL --
I caught that, but I knew what you meant.
I just see this as emblematic of one of the problems with regard to race today -- you'll often find people who, when race emerges as an issue, use an argument along the lines of: Slavery was a long time ago; why can't they just get over it; the civil rights movements was successful; they are whining. And yet stories like this one from Maine appear in the news all the time. I'd be willing to bet that were i so inclined -- and I'm not -- I could keep a blog that I post to multiple times every week with new stories about race and racism in the United States. And it could be a full time job if I were to include South Africa, where some of the same dynamics occur in terms of white denial of serious racial legacies.


montana urban legend said...

self-perception is helpful and obama winning (fingers crossed!) will go a long way in that regard, but the complaints that are leveled against blacks I have unfortunately got used to having to tune out. they sound so much like whining in and of themselves. viz. "why can't I be the complainer!?" "it's not fair that I should have to compete with slavery as a grievance!"

Yeah. whatever. boo-hoo.